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Teens visit W&M to learn leadership

  • Leadership conference
    Leadership conference  David Landsnes listens to a fellow member of the Leadership By Design student group that came to William & Mary with the support of Assistant Vice President for Student Engagement and Leadership Drew Stelljes (background).  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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They came to William & Mary with the types of questions one might expect teenagers to ponder.

David Landsnes wondered why he was normally “a little afraid” to meet new people.

Lauren Hembree wondered what it really meant to be a leader, someone who cared so deeply about a cause that she would answer her “fight or flight instinct” by fighting.

Becca Tewksbury wondered why she wasn’t better at “putting words together” and how she could more effectively communicate with like-minded people she sought to energize.

The three teens — ages 15, 17 and 17, respectively — were among 11 students from Northern Virginia to Chesapeake who attended the first-ever Leadership By Design summer program held at William & Mary last week in coordination with Shenandoah University.

{{youtube:medium:center|sa-vdspIjE0, Making pizza and friends}}

The program was begun seven years ago by Karen Schultz '75, director for the Center for Public Service and Scholarship at Shenandoah University and a member of the William & Mary Board of Visitors. It lived solely at the Winchester, Virginia, university until this year when Schultz and Drew Stelljes, W&M assistant vice president for student affairs, agreed to do one week at each university.

“It emphasizes leadership skills and how those leadership skills can be applied to service and community,” Shultz said. “This program gives them an opportunity to put those strengths and skills into non-profits, to understand how a community operates, how government functions and how to make a real difference."

The students participated in programs titled “Social Change Model and Strengths,” “Introduction to Community Engagement,” “Authentic Excellence,” “Active Citizenship,” “Ethics and Civility,” in addition to various workshops. They wrote mock grant proposals in which they described how they would use $10,000 to fund projects that would improve life in Williamsburg.

In the end, the students engaged in a day of service at both the United Way of Williamsburg and at the Blayton Building, a home for low-income seniors and pKaren Schultzeople with disabilities. There, they prepared lunch for the residents then sat and interacted with them.

The next night, they canvassed three neighborhoods in Williamsburg, asking respondents questions about needs and concerns they had and whether their community was meeting them.

The lessons learned during the week had a profound effect on the participants.

“I learned a lot of things I just never thought about,” Landsnes said. “We learned to embrace fear, and that our generation is the most fearful of failure. I found that the most interesting because we’ve had the most competition for everything of any generation.Participant Diana Calderon came down from Arlington.

“I’m usually afraid of meeting new people ... But I also learned that if you’re afraid of something it means you care about it and can use that fear to make yourself better at it.”

Landsnes said that while he hadn’t thought of it before, he’s going to seriously consider running for president of his high school junior class.

Hembree is already the president of her high school’s spirit club, but outside of school she is the president of an LGBTQ group.

“I now realize that it’s not about just leading your LGBTQ group or leading your sisters to do this,” she said. “It’s about realizing what values you hold as a leader, which you are willing to sacrifice as a leader, what hard choices you have to make to become a better leader.

Lauren Hembree“I was most afraid of ‘coming out,’ three years ago, especially because I didn’t know how people would take it. In realty, I didn’t know why I was afraid; I thought because I would be judged. It’s more than that. It’s more of a ‘fight or flight’ instinct. Coming here really made me understand why I was so afraid about coming out and how to be more involved with my LGBTQ community.”

Tewksbury is home-schooled. Her opportunities to lead are largely restricted to church groups. Nonetheless, she sensed that she had leadership capabilities – to energize people – and the Leadership By Design work reinforced that feeling.

“That’s a characteristic that I definitely found in myself that I want to build on,” she said. “I learned how to communicate something easier to people, so it’s easier for them to understand.”Becca Tewksbury

Tewksbury, from Williamsburg, found the segment on stress, and how people react to it, most informative.

“It makes us do two things, either focus all of our energy on it and try to control every aspect (of the situation) or run away from it,” she said. “My reaction to stress was definitely to run away. I put things off to the last minute and then stress about it. He taught us how to cope, break it down into smaller chunks so there’s less of it.

“It was just really interesting. There’s a lot from this course I’m going to take with me.”